In the days following a pair of high-profile mass shootings, one in Ohio and one in Texas, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler announced a multi-pronged plan to prevent gun violence in his jurisdiction.
The bulk of his approach, announced in a statement Aug. 6, will lean on existing Colorado gun laws to crack down on illegal firearm transactions. But it also calls for legislation in 2020 that would strengthen penalties for illegal firearm possession among felons and reform the state's mental-health hold system.
“Our gun laws need to have teeth, sharp teeth,” Brauchler said regarding convicted felons who obtain guns.
He has also requested funding from county commissioners in the 18th Judicial District — which comprises Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties — for an additional investigator who would work with local agencies to probe illegal firearm transactions.
Brauchler chided the nature of national debates over mass shooting and gun violence prevention that flare with each new tragedy. Debate surged nationwide the weekend of Aug. 3 following shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The shootings left a combined 31 people dead, the Associated Press reported.
Brauchler's announcement said his plans rely on “practical measures” that should “be quickly implemented here in Colorado.”
“We must resist getting caught up in a debate of `Who is right?' instead of `What is right?' Rather than getting mired down in controversial and divisive legislation, I am committed to implementing measures in my jurisdiction now using tools the Legislature has already given,” he said.
The announcement did not name any one piece of legislation in particular, but the 2019 state legislative session produced fiery battles in the gun rights arena.
Colorado in April ushered in a contentious red flag law that spurred recall efforts against bill sponsors and Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, who passionately backed the legislation as it worked through the Democrat-controlled state Legislature in 2019. The act is named for fallen Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish.
The 2019 bill was not the first attempt at red flag legislation in Colorado. In the previous session, a similar bill was introduced but voted down. Brauchler, a Republican from Parker, supported the prior version but backed away from the 2019 version, citing concerns over differences between the two bills.
Here's more on what Brauchler says should be done to curb gun violence in the 18th Judicial District and Colorado, per his Aug. 6 announcement:
Brauchler says there are existing Colorado laws aimed at denying firearms “to those in our neighborhoods who should not have them.” He names felons, domestic violence perpetrators and the dangerously mentally ill as examples of people who are prohibited by law from purchasing firearms.
“But a significant number of them do it anyway,” he said. “Those cases do not always make it to court. I want to see gun sellers and police working together to more vigorously enforce those existing laws.”
Brauchler has assigned his second-in-command man within the district attorney's office, Assistant District Attorney Matt Maillaro, to lead an effort among local and federal law enforcement agencies, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and holders of federal firearms licenses “to create an enhanced approach to the detection, investigation and prosecution of these crimes.”
Brauchler hopes to find bill sponsors who will take up legislation to strengthen penalties for felons who obtain weapons illegally. He says felons who illegally possess firearms can be convicted of a low-level felony and leave court with probation, multiple times.
“Even less penalties exist if a felon illegally attempts to purchase a firearm by lying to a seller,” he said.
He says felons who attempt to illegally acquire a firearm, successfully acquire a firearm, and those who provide them with the firearms illegally, should face prison time.
He also calls on the Legislature to “fix our broken and ineffective 72-hour mental health hold law. Its failures do not keep us safer and do nothing to help those most in need.”
The announcement pointed to Colorado's painful history with gun violence, naming the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, the 2017 killing of Parrish and the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting, which occurred just three months ago.
Each tragedy drew national attention and happened within the 18th Judicial District. The announcement also noted the close proximity of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre to the district.
“There is no debate that we need to keep firearms out of the hands of people who legally should not have them. We need laws on the books that promise punishment of people who knowingly thwart those rules,” Brauchler said. “I urge those who share these beliefs to join me in implementing them.”
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